Theologian says God not in control

<I have not read his book to see the full argument… but I greatly appreciate the point he here makes that SOVEREIGNTY AND CONTROL are two very different things. Frankly, this seems self-evident, but it is amazing how much doubtful theology gets shared based on that confusion. Working with a counseling center, I can tell you theodicy is quite a bit clearer if one accepts the Lord’s Prayer as it is stated— that God’s will is fully done in heaven, while on earth, it God’s will is to be prayed for since it is not, as yet, fully done here.>

A Baptist theologian who spent a quarter century reformulating the Christian doctrine of providence says most mainline theology about evil, suffering and God’s goodness is wrong. “We’re still living in the 21st century with a vision of God in relationship to the world that was hammered out

Source: Theologian says God not in control

Whispering Hope, A Poem to End 2016

At this time of year, a poem written over 120 yearsdudleybuck ago appears apt to me. Written by Septimus Winner (a prodigious composer and poet),  on or before 1893, links the cycle of seasons with the cycle of life.

The poem is reflective and hopeful… a good combination to enter a new year.

“Which is life’s most happy season?”Asked an aged man one day
Of a group of merry schoolboys,Gathered ’round his house at play.
Some then, laughing, told him “summer,”
Some the spring did most enjoy,
But not a welcome word for winterHad each bright, light-hearted boy.Then the old man answer’d, smiling,”There is joy our whole life through,
But the eyes of boys see never,As the eyes of old men do.”
“Three score years ago the spring timeWas a happy time to me,After that I loved the summer,With the blossom, bird and bee;Youth and manhood thus passed o’er me,Happy seasons, though they fled,Now I love the golden autumn,With its leaves so brown and dead;And when comes at last the winterIt shall find me, happy too,For when every branch is leafless
I shall see the stars shine through.”

May you look back on 2016 with fondness, and forward with hope for 2017. And may God grant you the ability to experience the joy each season of the year as well as each season of life.

Christmas Greetings 2016

Considering the wars, terroristic acts, self-serving governance, and general pain and suffering that feels to be the milieu of many who are reading this… the need to live out one’s life in Christ has never been greater. Yet it is understandable that some may feel weak or tired. There is no shame in feeling weak and tired, or having fears and doubts.

With that in mind, I  think my Christmas and New Years greeting will be to share the Greeting that we did for our counseling center, “Bukal Life Care.”

Please feel free to click on it here:  CHRISTMAS GREETINGS FROM BUKAL LIFE CARE


Why Evangelicals Struggle With Social Justice…

Consider the quote from Billy Graham a few decades ago:

“I am convinced that if the Church went back to its main task of proclaiming the Gospel and getting people converted to Christ, it would have a far greater impact on the social, moral, and psychological needs of men than any other thing it could possibly do. Some of the greatest social movements of history have come about as a result of men being converted to Christ.” (Quoted by Rodger Bassham in “Mission Theology: 1948-1975 Years of Worldwide Creative Tension,” 226)

These needs– social, moral, psychological–9781592440269 certainly makes sense. Perhaps if “converted to Christ” actually meant a radical leaving behind of what is old, and following Christ, such needs would indeed be met, and may even overflow into broader society as “salt and light”. But overall, Graham’s statement hasn’t really stood up well to history. As a black minister stated around the height of the Civil Rights movement infor the US,

the “law did for me and my people in America  what empty and highpowered Evangelical preaching never did for 100 years.” (Ibid., 227)

Many like to point to William Wilberforce, an Evangelical Christian,  who fought to end slavery in the British Empire in the early 19th century, and also fought for many other issues of social justice. But  for every Wilberforce, there were scores of Evangelical Christians historically who stood against social justice. Christians in the Southern United States, for example, took a very different stance to Wilberforce. Consider the quote by an Evangelical preacher from the mid 1800s:

“Let us then, North and South, bring our minds to comprehend two ideas, and submit to their irresistible power. Let the Northern philanthropist learn from the Bible that the relation of master and slave is not sin, per se. Let him learn that God says nowhere it is sin. Let him learn that sin is the transgression of the law; and where there is no law there is no sin, and that the Golden Rule may exist in the relations of slavery. Let him learn that slavery is simply an evil in certain circumstances. Let him learn that equality is only the highest form of social life; that subjection to authority, even slavery, may, in given conditions, be for a time better than freedom to the slave of any complexion. Let him learn that slavery, like all evils, has its corresponding and greater good; that the Southern slave, though degraded compared with his master, is elevated and ennobled compared with his brethren in Africa. Let the Northern man learn these things, and be wise to cultivate the spirit that will harmonize with his brethren of the South, who are lovers of liberty as truly as himself: And let the Southern Christian– nay, the Southern man of every grade– comprehend that God never intended the relation of master and lave to be perpetual. Let him give up the theory of Voltaire, that the negro is of a different species. Let him yield the semi-infidelity of Agassiz, that God created different races of the same species– in swarms, like bees– for Asia, Europe, America, Africa, and the islands of the sea. Let him believe that slavery, although not a sin, is a degraded condition,– the evil, the curse on the South,– yet having blessings in its time to the South and to the Union. Let him know that slavery is to pass away in the fullness of Providence. Let the South believe this, and prepare to obey the hand that moves their destiny. (“Slavery Ordained of God,” by Rev. Fred A. Ross, D.D., 1857, pages 6-7)

Truthfully, I chose this quote as one of the more balanced, less bigoted, supporters of slavery. I could have chosen much worse. For example, I could have chosen a quote by Confederate States of America Vice President Alexander Stephens, of the same Protestant denomination as Ross, in a speech he gave challenging the notion that all are created equal:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” (Cornerstone Speech, Savannah Georgia, March 21, 1861)

I, instead, chose Ross’ quote because it shows pretty clearly one major reason that Evangelicals struggle with social justice–

#1.  Evangelicals have a tendency to support the past or the status quo. Evangelicals often idealize the Primitive 1st century church. Others may idealize the Reformers, the Puritans, or perhaps the church in the 1950s (among other times). <Perhaps this explains the tendency of Evangelicals in the United States, to align themselves with the American political right. Despite great areas for potential conflict, both groups tend to mythologize a preferred past.> In the previous quote, what Ross here was saying was that slavery is not an ideal thing, but since it presently exists, it must be ordained by God to exist, and so to take action to end it, is to act against God. Rather, we should support the status quo, and be prepared for slavery to disappear… in God’s own timing. The title page of the book is instructive as it quotes Romans 13:1, “The powers that be are ordained by God.” So social injustice exists because God wills it to be that way… at least for now. Unfortunately, to look at the present and at history as expressing God’s preferred ordained state of things, essentially blesses injustices, and tends to make us blind to the same injustices that those of the past were blind to.

Frankly, however, we should learn from the past. We should look at the, illegal actually, expulsion of Cherokee native Americans from the Southeast United States in 1838-1839, (well-described today as “The Trail of Tears”) as a great evil, unjustified Biblically, and unconscionable regardless of their citizen status. When we look to today and the future, we should learn and grow from that, and Evangelical Christians, above all others, should be horrified by the possibility of multiplying this horror with “carte blanche” executive expulsion of millions of those without citizen status in the US.

#2.  Evangelicals often have a poor theology of social justice because of the prioritization of evangelism. The term “because” is an admittedly loaded term, since there is no automatic causal relationship between the two. But there is  certainly a connection. If one takes the five major attitudes (theological perspectives) that Christians have regarding social action (avoidance, convenience, social gospel, ulterior motive, and holism), the most common tend to be Convenience and Ulterior Motive. Convenience view is that social ministry or social action is fine, even commendable, as long as it does not get in the way of “real” Great Commission ministry. Ulterior Motive view is that social ministry is great and justified if, and only if, it can be used to direct people to “real” Great Commission ministry. Great Commission ministry I am using to describe the three-fold description from Matthew 28 of conversion, baptism, and spiritual training (and am not here going to deal with the question of whether these are the only valid GC ministries). Both Convenience and Ulterior Motive viewpoints devalue social ministry or social action. What we don’t prioritize, we don’t value. What we don’t value, we tend to do poorly.

Additionally, some take a view like Billy Graham did in his quote at the top of this post that suggests that if people are successfully evangelized, social ministry and social justice will tend to take care of themselves. This hasn’t proven to be true. The early church struggled immensely with societal issues. They did not “just get worked out.” In fact, Evangelical groups often unwittingly perpetuate injustices. It has long been noted that the growth of Evangelical or Charismatic groups in Central America has had little to no impact on societal evils. Part of this comes from the common Evangelical viewpoint I like to call “Apocalypticism’– I mean by that the idea that if this world will pass away, and a new heaven and earth will endure, present sins and injustices really don’t matter all that much. We need to focus on that which is spiritual and eternal. This view sounds good, until we test it against Christ’s declaration of an imminent Kingdom of God, and the call of Christians to be a part of the call towards radical transformation, both within and without. While I do agree that history does not appear to support a post-millennial view of social progress, to simply embrace a Jainist or Hindu (Kali yuga) inevitability of cosmic corruption, or perhaps a Benedictine view of separation from the world, is ultimately inconsistent with our call as Christians.

#3. Evangelicals tend to like to generalize social problems. One might call it whitewashing… an intentional minimization of social concerns. Evangelicals have difficulty transitioning from abstract truths to practical truths– they are better at dogma than applying dogma to praxis. Consider the movement in the US in the last few months, “Black Lives Matter.” A lot of Evangelicals expressed dislike for the term, preferring to say “All Lives Matter.” While the second statement is certainly true, it is also part of the long-standing tradition of maintaining blindspots by using general, although true, language. In the 1800s, Christians could tacitly support slavery while speaking vaguely about the “brotherhood of man.”  Consider the (American) Declaration of Independence that starts out as

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The initial draft of the Declaration of Independence had a paragraph on concerns regarding slavery and race. While admittedly, the language is mixed– both inspirational and a bit racist– eventually, this was stricken from the final version. It seems that those (commonly Christians, or Christian-influenced Deists) who sought to retain slavery, wanted to remove explicit condemnation for enslavement, while perfectly happy to keep ambiguous, high-sounding statements of human equality and unalienable rights.

Sadly, general language promotes blind spots. Here in the Philippines, for example, there has been a rash of extrajudicial killings (criminal homicides) of those involved in the drug trade. If Evangelical Christians want to sound good while maintaining a blindspot, they can talk about the “sanctity of human life” or “All lives matter.” But if they want to face the problem directly rather than ignore it, they should say “Drug lords lives matter” or “Drug dealers lives matter.” I really don’t expect to hear that language anytime soon.


William Wilberforce was a great champion of social justice, in part, because he did not generalize. He did not simply say that all men have rights… he focused a light on the deplorable practice of black slavery. He did not simply talk about the well-beings of laborers, but focused attention on specific abuses such as in child labor. He did not simply express support of justice, but supported specific justice and reform in how prisoners were handled. He did not talk vaguely about good Christian stewardship of Creation, but (actually) supported legislation protecting the well-being of farm animals.

Wilberforce, did not presume that the past or the present define God’s preferred future. He did not assume that the “powers that be,” ordained by God, don’t need to be challenged and held accountable to serve God and the public good effectively.

Wilberforce did not a focus so much on the hereafter that his theological understanding of God’s call to Christians is muddy and sporadic. One might say that he saw that Lord’s prayer “… Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” as not just a passive wish, but a call for personal commitment to partner with God.

A commitment to evangelism, churchplanting, and discipleship does not demand a watering down or half-hearted commitment to social justice.


End of 2016 and Looking Forward

I have to admit, I had a lot of concerns about 2016. But God has been good, and 2017 looks to be an interesting (dare I say ‘exciting’?) year. Here are a few year end review items:

  1.  14,483 views in 2016 (as of December 20). That is pretty trivial by some blog standards, but it is a record for me… so I am very happy.
  2. 784 posts since the start in October 2010. That averages out to about 1 post every 3 days. Since only a small percentage are reposts from other people, and since I almost never have a post that is not “wordy,” that is a lot of writing. I have found it to be a great learning experience. Blog posts have also helped me in my book writing. Last Sunday, I even used a blog post from 3 years ago as the basis for a sermon.
  3. My most popular Post in 2016 is an oldie: “Cults: Good, Bad, and Ugly.” It develops quadrants based on two axes Cult ChartUse of Power or Control, and “Theology Orthodoxy.” I still pretty good about that one. The most popular post that I had posted this year is “But is it Biblical?” It is a good post, one of a number of posts that I have done challenging the penchant of Christians to prooftext or verse drop to support their own pet beliefs or prejudices, rather than taking a “canonical” approach to Scripture, where one accepts the whole of Scripture our guide— seeking a theological integration of the Word. However, with this second one, part of its popularity is that there is a Ponzi scheme called MMM-Global. Because of the similarity to my website MMM (Munson Missions Musings), search engines sometimes direct people asking “Is MMM Biblical” to that post.
  4. Finished the book “The Art of Pastoral Care” with my wife Celia. Published it in June and have been using it for CPE, CPO, and Intro toArt of Pastoral Care Cover Pastoral Care and Counseling courses. Even have sold a few copies here or there. We are around 30-40% done with “The Dynamics of Pastoral Care” that is an advance ment of the first, with greater emphasis on relational dynamics, such as Group Dynamics, Family Systems, and the Supervisory Relationship. I am also 10-15% done on a book that reflects on the interaction between Theology and Missions (still haven’t settled on the name). It is likely, however, that I will finish that before the one on Pastoral Care. Pretty sure that  at least one of those books will be done in 2017.
  5. I guess there are three areas that I am particularly interested in exploring. (A) The use of the Case Study Method and Group Dynamics for effective theological reflection in missions. (B) How does one evaluate theologies in terms of both contexualization and orthodoxy. (C) The effective use of Inter-religious dialogue— particularly in the middle ground between dialogue that is highly relativizing at one extreme, or devolved into debate at the other.

Thanks for taking the time to visit. You are always welcome.

Lord’s Prayer Reflections


The Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father”) is a model prayer. Perhaps it should not be thought of as something to repeat word for word. On the other hand, repeating the Lord’s Prayer as a group does remind us that we are a part of a community of faith. But when we repeat it, it is worth taking the time to meditate on what it means. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are expressing a great deal about God’s relationship to both heaven and earth.

Lord’s Prayer

God’s Relationship to Heaven

God’s Relationship to Earth

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.

God, our Father, is now in heaven

God, our Father, is not on earth in the same way that He is in heaven.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven

God’s will is fully done in heaven.

God’s will is not fully done here. We should pray that it is fully done here, like in heaven.

but deliver us from evil.

Evil is a genuine reality for us now.

For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

God is not limited by power now or anytime in the future.

God’s limitation of exercise of power on earth is not due to weakness, but is apparently self-imposed.

While it is often the tendencies of many Christians (particularly Evangelicals) to focus on the future Kingdom (or reign) of God, this preference is somewhat misguided. Jesus spent much of His earthly ministry telling us how to live in the Kingdom (or reign) of God in the present tense. Jesus calls us to (voluntarily) obey Jesus as Lord (as King) in this present age. Matthew 28:19-21 (one of the Great Commissions) tells us that a primary aspect of our calling as Christians on earth is to teach others to obey everything Christ commanded. This means that we are to teach others to place themselves within the reign of Christ (of God). Even a cursory reading of Jesus commands soon reveals that living under the reign of God is not just about spiritual matters. He talks about our behavior with other people. He talks about our attitudes. He talks about all sorts of aspects of our lives.

There is yet another aspect of the kingdom or reign of Christ that should be noted. Both kingdom and reign suggest a corporate reality. Placing oneself under the reign of Christ means placing oneself within a new web of social relationships. To be focused on the reign of Christ in the present tense (or desiring “Your kingdom come”) suggests a desire for expansion of Christ’s reign in the hearts of individuals as well as in the broader society.

Kingdom of God

Present Tense

Future Tense


Those who accept the reign of Christ are gradually being transformed into His image. These people are also sharing the message of Christ to bring others into His reign.

Each individual is part of the kingdom and fully transformed.


Disharmony reigns in relationships between beings, nature, and God. Those under the reign of Christ seek to expand His reign, bringing peace and harmony to a broken world.

God, all beings, and all of nature are in perfect harmony… a restoration of paradise lost.

With that understanding, we see that the term “kingdom of God” has profound implications for us now in both spiritual and temporal matters. In fact, one might even argue that it is misguided to try to separate the two. Our spiritual life affects our temporal life and our temporal life affects our spiritual life.

Theology and Anti-Missions

William Carey, referred to by some as the Father of Protestant Missions, wrote his great booklet, “An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.” Carey came from a religious group, the Particular Baptists. As “dissenters” of the state church, they could, potentially, have a greater desire to share the gospel beyond national boundaries. However, this potential was crushed by a form of Calvinistic theology that saw the work of salvation as God’s alone. If salvation was only a work of God, then it seemed quite logical that evangelism, both locally and cross-culturally, was irrelevant or even impertinent.


Carey chose not to challenge the theology of his church. Rather, he chose to challenge its implications. Preachers of his time and denomination commonly deduced from their theology that the Great Commission, in its Matthew 28 form, was simply Jesus’ address to his eleven present disciples. As such it lacks relevance today. Carey made three arguments against this thinking:

  • If “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel” is not for us today, then neither is “baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” What is our justification for baptizing, as Baptists, if Jesus only commanded the original disciples to baptize, and not us?
  • If the commissioning in Matthew was only for the original 11, presumably then every preacher who has shared the Gospel to unreached peoples over close to two millenia, including those who shared their faith to ancestors of the majority of readers of Carey’s booklet, did so without God’s authority/blessing.
  • If the commissioning was only to the disciples who were present with Him, why did Jesus end the commissioning with “Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the world?” Such a statement would be appropriate if Jesus was talking to people throughout future history. If Jesus was only talking to the Eleven, He might be more likely to say something like, “Lo, I am with you always, as long as you live.”

With this, Protestant missions gradually grew from a trickle into a stream and then into a mighty river.

But there was still a problem. The theology of many of the Particular Baptists said, “God has determined salvation from the past, and His work is completely unaffected by our activity today, so there is no need or value in evangelizing.” Carey added an important, but dissonant, statement. “Jesus has commanded us to evangelize, so you should do so– regardless of whether you believe it is effective.”

People can often live their entire lives with opposing beliefs… but this conflict can spring to the forefront when such a conflict is articulated effectively. It could be argued that the Baptists in London were already struggling between the belief that salvation is the work of God alone, and the clear Biblical record of God working through people to carry out His mission. The words of William Carey in his Enquiry, led to a great change of direction. But eloquence in a different direction can result in a very different result.

In 1826, Daniel Parker published “Views on the Two Seeds.” The two seeds he was referring to were those mentioned in Genesis 3:15, “And I will put enmity between you,” the serpent, “and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

Parker expressed the belief, in pages 4 and 5 of his work, that the seed of the woman was “Christ and the elect,” while the seed of the serpent is “the Non-elect.”

“Eve’s sin allowed Satan ‘to beget the wicked, sinful principle and nature in her,’ thus allowing both the seed of Satan and the seed of Christ to enter the human bloodstream. Satan’s seed is represented in the covenant of works, Christ’s in the covenant of grace. The elect seed can be redeemed, but the nonelect cannot.” (H. Leon McBeth. “The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness,” 374.)

The theology of this work resonated with Baptists, especially in the Western (what we would now call Mid-Western) regions of the United States and their view of determinism regarding salvation. McBeth, on page 372, lists three line items from the “Apple Creek Association” from that period showing Anti-Missions sentiments:

“19 We as an association do not hesitate to declare an unfellowship with foreign and domestic missionary and bible societies, Sunday Schools and tract societies, and all other missionary institutions.

21. No missionary preacher is to have the privilege of preaching at our association.

22. We advise the churches to protest against masonic and missionary institutions, and not to contribute to any such beggarly institutions.”

Of course, the anti-Missions movement was driven by other factors than theological. There were regional disagreements or rivalries. Most Baptists in the Eastern United States were “Regular” or supporting Missions, while those in the West tended to be anti-Mission. Cost had a factor, and poor churches in the frontier regions were more likely to see mission organizations as parasitic on the church. (I get reminded again, of the 2nd century work, the Didache, that gave local churches strict guidance to identify true versus false apostles. The biggest criteria was on how much time and support they sought from local churches rather than getting about their business of mission work.) Additionally, there was a suspicion of theological education, and seminaries were often lumped together with mission organizations in their opposition.

However, another major theological view that greatly strengthened the Anti-missions movement was ‘Biblicism.’ This is the belief or theological stance that only institutions that are expressly noted in the Bible are legitimate. This was very strong in the early 1800s, but still exists today. I have heard people say things to the effect that “The church is the only God-ordained institution to carry out His work in the world.” The statement presumes Biblicism, and then deduces (doubtfully) that only one institution is established in the New Testament— the Church.

In 1827, the Kehuckee Association published “A Declaration Against the Modern Missionary Movement and Other Institutions of Men.” Those who agreed with such declarations, often called themselves “Old School Baptists” referring, presumably, to the pre-Carey Particular Baptist tradition, or even further, perhaps, based on the “Trail of Blood” belief that Baptist churches go back to Jesus and John the Baptist. The Campbellite Baptists, led by Alexander Campbell saw themselves as Reformers of the Baptist tradition, until they broke free from the Baptist fold to form the Campbellite, or Church of Christ, movement, opposed Missions as well. Both of these have an underlying premise of Biblicism. For the Kehuckee Assocition, the Modern Missionary Movement is an “Institution of Men” rather than of God. For Campbell, “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent,” led to ‘where the Bible is not explicitly affirming, we oppose.” The Anti-Missions Baptists and the Campbellites saw themselves as seeking a “primitive” New Testament church and more recently, a “pre-Carey” Baptist church.

In the 20th century, other theological concerns


have crept in. Perhaps most well-known as the Liberal-Fundamentalist controversies in the 1920s. In broader Protestant circles, this can be seen in the controversy generated by “Rethinking Missions: A Layman’s Enquiry after One Hundred Years,” published in 1932 largely through the work of W. E. Hocking.

“The report distinguishes between temporary and permanent elements in the function of a missionary. The task of the missionary today, it was maintained, is to see the best in other religions, to help the adherents to discover, or to rediscover, all that is best in their own traditions, to co-operate with the most active and vigorous elements in the other traditions in social reform and in the purification of religious expression. The aim should not be conversion – the drawing of members of one religious faith over into another – or an attempt to establish a Christian monopoly. Co-operation is to replace aggression. The ultimate aim, in so far as any can be descried, is the emergence of the various religions out of their isoloation into a fellowship in which each will find its appropriate place.” (Stephen Neill “A History of Christian Missions, (Penguin Publishing, 2nd edition), page 419).

This report and the larger belief system it espouses, was a huge problem theologically. Despite the obvious differences with the narrow interpretation of Calvinist theology of the previous century, there was one obvious similarity. Both theological views said that there was really nothing that the church can or should do to offer God’s salvation to unbelievers. For the “Old-School Baptists” God did all the work of salvation, so their was nothing we can do to aid that activity. For those who accepted Hocking’s report, the best the church has to offer is not God’s call to salvation, but help for other religions to be better religions.

William Carey was wise in not challenging directly the theology of his compatriots, only the implications. But theology doesn’t just go away. Missions needs a better theological backing than what we normally give it. Most commonly it is given in the form of a series of “proof-texts” in a lecture or part of a course called “Biblical Basis for Missions.” Essentially, the course does what William Carey did. It says, “We don’t really need to deal with the issue of theology. Rather, if we will show that we are doing that we call ‘Missions’ can be linked to Biblical verses that are relevant and supporting.”

An acquaintance of mine is what sometimes gets called a Neo-Calvinist. A seminary interviewing him questioned whether his theology would work against the importance of Missions and Evangelism (these being important to the seminary). His response was that he strongly supported missions and evangelism and felt that this was empowered by his theology much the way several other missionaries, pastors, or theologians found their Calvinistic theology empowering their call to outreach. I don’t really know about some of the people he referenced. However, he mentioned William Carey, but from his writings it seems to me more that Carey bracketed his theology. Or, perhaps more sympathetically, he allowed his theology to maintain a certain unresolved tension. This is not always the worst decision. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Some work in the vein of Carey’s Enquiry, answers more recent criticisms or interpretations of Matthew 28:18-20:

  • Arguing for the authenticity of the passage (that Jesus actually said it or it at least accurately describes what Jesus was seeking for the post-resurrection church).
  • Connect it with other Biblical passages to show that the passage is correctly understood and is consistent with other statements of Jesus, as well as other Biblical writers.

For a Christian Missions that is “built to last,” one needs a theological view, not a proof-text view, of Scripture. Regarding the latter activity, David Bosch states,

“I am not saying that these procedures are illegitimate. They undoubtedly have their value. But their contribution towards establishing the validity of the missionary mandate is minimal. This validity should not be deduced from isolated texts and detached incidents but only from the thrust of the central message of both Old and New Testaments.” (“Hermeneutical Principles,” pages 439-440)

A big problem is that Missions has been strangely quite absent from formal theological study over the years. As Christopher Wright notes,

“… there are many theological scholars and students whose understanding of theology is bounded by the horizon of the classical shape of the curriculum, in which mission in any form (biblical, historical, theological, practical) seems remarkably absent.” (Christopher J. H. Wright, ‘The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative,” p. 36)

In fact, one can even argue about where a Missions Theology would fit in. It could be a form of “Practical Theology”– attempting to bridge systematic theology (perhaps soteriology and ecclesiology) with real world practice. It could be its own sub-category of systematic theology, standing alongside Christology, Eschatology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology and the like). It could be a sub-set of Biblical Theology, going beyond “Biblical basis for Missions” to an attempt to draw the Testaments of God together to see the Missio Dei and the Missio Ecclesia.

For me, the most important is Missions Theology that establishes a sound foundation for Missions today. This would draw heavy on its Biblical Theology roots, but honestly and faithfully addresses systematization with historical and philophical sources as well. Wright goes on (on page 37) to quote Mark Spindler:

“If ‘mission’ is understood as the sum total of all actual missionary activities in the modern period or as everything undertaken under the banner of ‘missions,’ then an honest biblical scholar can only conclude that such a concept of mission does not occur in the Bible… It is therefore anachronistic and hence meaningless to attempt to base all modern ‘missionary’ activities on the Bible, that is, to seek biblical precedents or literal biblical mandates for all modern missionary activities. Mission today must, rather, be seen as arising from something fundamental, from the basic movement of God’s people toward the world… All ‘missionary’ activities that have grown up in history must be reassessed from this perspective. Once again, a biblical grounding of mission by no means seeks to legitimate missionary activities that are actually being carried out. Its goal is, rather, evaluation of those activities in the light of the Bible.”

We presently live in a “missionally sloppy” time. We live in an era where missions is often seen as converting people from one Christian denomination to another, or one theological ‘club’ within Christianity to another. For some it is about sending money to local workers, while others are convinced that missions can only happen when people are active cross-culturally. Some see evangelism as absolutely essential to missions, while others see social justice and ministry as key, while others identify a more holistic approach. Some feel that spiritual mapping and praying down ‘principalities and powers’ is essential, while others see it as useless fiction. Some see long-term workers as essential, while others see them as anachronistic and believe that more can be done with short-term teams. Some believe that we must do things “the way Paul did it,” others that we must be sent as the Father sent Jesus, while some see other forms of adaptation in missions. Many provide their ultimate theological justification for their Missions activities as “it seems to work” or “God appears to be blessing it” — (may as well use the line from the Debby Boone song, You Light Up My Life, “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right.”)

A good missions theology would not answer all of these concerns, but would at least provide a foundation for evaluating the various currents.

Is Prooftexting a Growing Trend Among Christian Leaders?

A religious leader makes a controversial dogmatic statement, and then attaches a Bible verse or passage as “proof” that the statement is true, or Biblical.

Have you seen this? I have, and I am pretty sure you have too. Some by people one might think should know better. I think it is on the rise. Consider a few that I have come across in 2016.

  • A friend of mine back in the US got a canned message48467483 on his phone from Jerry Falwell Jr. telling Evangelicals that they have an obligation to vote. This statement was footnoted by the statement of Jesus, “Render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar’s.”  I hope it is pretty obvious that this verse has NOTHING to do with voting, and it doesn’t even seem possible to apply it contextually to voting. Go to the passage and try substituting voting and decide for yourself. But even if you thought it did, somehow, apply– in the United States, voting is a right and privilege, NOT an obligation. In other words, there is no governmental obligation to vote. In fact, choosing not to vote is equally exercising one’s right to vote.
  • In a similar vein, another religious leader in a completely different context argued that abstentions in voting were unacceptable based on the words of Jesus “Let your ‘Yeas’ be Yea, and your ‘Nays’ be Nay.” Again, I hope that it need not be said that a verse primarily about honesty and keeping promises, and secondarily about taking oaths, has nothing to do with valid voting options in a business meeting. (I am holding out some doubtful hope that this quote was meant to be humorous.)
  • I have had a number of people tell me (I do work in a counseling center, after all) that they don’t need to forgive those who are unrepentant. They bring up one verse, and it is always the same single verse. Why is that? Because everywhere else in the New Testament (though you are welcome to explore the Old Testament as well if you want) forgiveness is commanded without qualification. Considering how unhealthy unforgiveness is to the injured party, I struggle to see why anyone would seek a loophole anyway.
  • A letter was circulated around here by religious leaders that attacked a person’s reputation. The justification was James 4:17. “ So it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it.” Ignoring that the verse really doesn’t appear to apply to this sort of case, it doesn’t even justify it by extension. What this letter is saying, essentially, is “We have determined that writing such a letter is a good thing, so based on James 4:17 we wrote it.” There is no basis here for arguing that the letter was right in the first place.

  • Okay, this one I have bumped up against for years and years. So many when talking about conflict or discipline just bring up Matthew 18:15-17. Some church bylaws even say for their Church Discipline “We follow Matthew 18 for church discipline.” Unlike most of the cases above, this one is properly utilized… up to a point. The problem is that the Bible has a WEALTH of information on how to deal with sin and conflict. Matthew 18 is relevant but hugely limited. I have seen it misused on both sides. On one side I have seen churches use it like a checklist. Private conversation check– Small group conversation check– Brought before the church check. Out they go. This ignores the fact that intention of the passage is how to reconcile rather than how to kick someone out. On the other hand, I have come across people who have tried to use it the other way. They do wrong and justify it (or at least justify not being disciplined for it) with the argument that “the church did not follow the process correctly.” Some even go further by pulling in the Bible’s call not to gossip. So, following their logic, only one person knows the sin, one should not use the Matthew 18 passage at all because to have two people come by means that one had to gossip. Therefore there should be no church discipline at all. Church discipline is admittedly hard, but it is not necessarily easier by embracing a sub-biblical position of ignoring most of Biblical wisdom on the topic.
  • I have heard the most despicable things justified under the umbrella of “Submission to those in Authority” over you, in Romans 13. You probably have as well. I hope it doesn’t need to be emphasized that submission to ANYTHING other than God is limited. As Melba Maggay said recently said (sorry I have to paraphrase here): “Don’t read Romans 13 without also reading Revelation 13” (Or, I might add, much of the writings of the prophets in the Old Testament.)
  • Relatedly, an acquaintance of mine put up a verse from Hebrews 13:17, Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit. He chose the specific parts to underline and emphasize. The emphasis suggests that leaders are accountable ONLY to God. That is also sub-Biblical (in my view). Secondly, this particular post was written to church youth in how they should relate to youth pastors/leaders. Again, as one involved in Christian counseling, I have come across so many church youth that have been abused sexually, spiritually, emotionally (and so forth) by youth leaders embracing the idea that they have no accountability to any person, and that youth are to obey without question. Truly horrible. I hope it doesn’t need to be emphasized (again) that submission in the Bible is typically mutual, and always (with the exception of to God) limited.

I will stop here. I won’t add examples such as FB posts that prooftext verse “strong national defense” or “immigration reform.” I hope you are already a bit suspicious of such self-serving uses of the Bible. My basic argument is that the Church (in general) is unethical. You can look at some heavier stuff in this regard in my post, “The Unethical Church.”

  1. A problem is identified
  2. The leadership of the church, or the church as a whole, does what it feels like doing.
  3. A verse footnote is added to suggest that they have embraced a theologically sound attempt to understand the heart and mind of God.

We really need to do better. If a church and its leadership lacks the Biblical breadth of understanding, and theological discernment to make wise decisions “on the fly” then at least work to come up with wise policies during times of calm discussion. And don’t throw around Bible verses lightly.

Christmas Musings 2016

It is Christmas Season here in the Philippines. Arguably, it has been since September 1st.

Every year I come across some Christians who are worried about whether it is okay to celebrate Christmas because of its “pagan roots.” This year is no exception. Additionally, some JWs came by our house today and they reject Christmas for this very reason (of course, it is their choice, and I certainly don’t ask those of other faiths to celebrate our own religious celebrations). But Christians rejecting Christmas because of its pagan roots makes no sense unless one believes that things that non-Christians do are forever unredeemable by God. Rejecting the obscene consumerism— well, I am a bit more sympathetic to that view. But I think subversion of consumerism in a system is best done from within than without.maligayang_pasko_god_jul_i_tagaloggf_rund_kudde-r3b6741f100284f578da60ed788644954_z6i0e_324

Some reject Christmas because it is… festive, and festive is problematic. It reminds me of a group of, truthfully very nice, people who felt that birthdays were wrong to celebrate because it is wrong to suggest that even one day a year is your own day rather than God’s. That is fine, but that does seem to presume that God rejects celebration, or that a day of personal celebration demeans or offends God. I don’t really see that.

Anyway here are some Christmas musings from the past:

Christmas– It’s Okay, Really! (2012)

Christmas Musings (2010)

St. Joseph at Christmas (2012)

Joining the Festivities (2015)

Additionally, here is my Family’s Christmas Letter/Card:      CLICK HERE